Monday, July 3, 2017

PETITION FOR REMOVAL OF ELIZABETH SAVITT AS GUARDIAN FOR FRANCES BERKOWITZ

"IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE
FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT IN AND
FOR PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA
Case No. 502014GA000630XXXXNB
Division: IJ
IN RE: GUARDIANSHIP OF
FRANCES BERKOWITZ
_________________________________/
AMENDED PETITION FOR REMOVAL OF ELIZABETH SAVITT
AS GUARDIAN FOR FRANCES BERKOWITZ
Petitioners, WILLIAM WEBSTER MILLSAPS and DONNA GREENSPAN
SOLOMON, pursuant to section 744.474, Florida Statutes, and Florida Probate Rule 5.660,
hereby petition the Court for the removal of ELIZABETH SAVITT as the guardian of the person
and property of FRANCES BERKOWITZ, and in support thereof state as follows:


MATERIAL FACTS

10. In 2013 and 2014, Millsaps and Solomon represented the Berkowitzes in
connection with a wide-ranging fraud that had depleted the Berkowitzes of their entire life
savings of over $1.2 million. During the course of heavily-contested litigation, Millsaps and
Solomon recovered over $835 thousand from the fraudster for the benefit of their clients and,
additionally, were able to “freeze” several hundred thousand dollars more of Mrs. Berkowitz’s
funds, which Millsaps and Solomon located in Amtrust bank.

11. In late 2014, Millsaps and Solomon became concerned that Mrs. Berkowitz was
declining and perhaps suffering from diminished capacity and/or the undue influence of her
caregivers. It appeared that significant additional recoveries were being put at risk. As a result,
on December 3, 2014, Millsaps petitioned for a determination of capacity of Mrs. Berkowitz and
the appointment of a professional guardian on an emergency basis for Mrs. Berkowitz, in order
to protect Mrs. Berkowitz from possible and then suspected exploitation by her caregivers.

12. The court docket shows that the guardianship proceeding was initially assigned to
Savitt’s husband, Judge Martin H. Colin (“Judge Colin”).

13. Judge Colin did not enter any orders in the proceeding. Instead, on December 4,
2014, a different judge granted Millsaps’ petition for emergency guardianship and appointed
Savitt as the emergency temporary guardian of Mrs. Berkowitz. On January 7, 2015, Savitt was
appointed as the limited guardian (“Guardian”) of Mrs. Berkowitz.

14. Notably, the Petition for Emergency Guardianship revealed on its face that Mrs.
Berkowitz had substantial assets. This is significant because it appears that allegedly
incapacitated persons (“AIPs”) with significant assets initially assigned to Judge Colin have been
transferred to other divisions where Savitt is then appointed as guardian, all without an audit trail
as to the purpose for the transfer in divisions and appointment of Savitt.

15. Savitt was not a family member or friend of Mrs. Berkowitz, whom she had never
met before. Savitt was appointed as a “professional guardian.” The Statewide Public Guardian
Office requires such professional guardians to undergo credit and criminal history checks before
being appointed.

16. Despite the requirement for credit and criminal history checks before
appointment, Savitt and her husband had just had a final judgment of foreclosure entered against
them. On November 17, 2014 -- less than a month before the guardianship appointment---the
final judgment of foreclosure was rendered, showing a balance due of $308,328.04. A
foreclosure sale was scheduled for March 17, 2015.

17. On December 8, 2014, while still only Mrs. Berkowitz’s temporary guardian,
Savitt filed an emergency motion to compel Mrs. Berkowitz’s bank to provide her with access to
Mrs. Berkowitz’s financial records and to distribute all of her funds to Savitt. The emergency
motion was granted that same day. Also on December 8, 2014, Savitt went to Mrs. Berkowitz’s
bank to “open accounts.”

18. However, on December 26, 2014, Savitt told Millsaps that Mrs. Berkowitz had
“no money left” in her accounts, despite Millsaps’ advising Savitt that Mrs. Berkowitz should
have had close to half a million dollars remaining.

19. On March 11, 2015, the bank in Savitt’s foreclosure action filed a motion to
cancel the pending sale scheduled for March 17, 2015, vacate the judgment and dismiss the
action, stating: “The parties have reached settlement whereby the indebtedness of Ms. Savitt to
[the bank] has been satisfied.” (emphasis supplied). On March 28, 2015, the bank executed a
release of the mortgage of Savitt’s property.

20. Meanwhile, on January 26, 2015, Dean Rosenbach (“Rosenbach”) and the Law
Offices of Marshall E. Rosenbach substituted in as counsel for the Guardian (Savitt) and Mrs.
Berkowitz in the Underlying Actions. Rosenbach is a personal friend of Savitt’s husband, Judge
Colin.

21. Serious concerns have been raised about Savitt’s conduct as guardian, including
those raised in The Palm Beach Post’s investigative reporting series entitled “Guardianships: A
Broken Trust.” A portion of that series is annexed hereto as “Exhibit A.”

22. In the wake of The Palm Beach Post’s investigation, all of Savitt’s guardianship
cases have been moved to the north county courthouse and Judge Colin was transferred out of
the probate division.

COUNT I – REMOVAL OF SAVITT AS GUARDIAN
23. Petitioners adopt by reference, as if set out fully and completely in this Count, the
following statements of this Third-Party Complaint: Paragraphs 1 through 23.
24. Savitt should never have been appointed temporary emergency guardian and then
limited guardian of Mrs. Berkowitz. Her appointment was obtained improperly and/or through
fraud.

WHEREFORE, Petitioners hereby request that the Court remove and replace Savitt as the
guardian of Mrs. Berkowitz, and order an accounting and transfer of property as required by
Florida Probate Rule 5.660.

Source and Full Court Filing and Exhibits
https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3005319/Amended-Petition-for-Removal-of-Savitt-as-Guardian.pdf

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